First Day Moose, Last Day Moose

Story by Chap Pung- Big
Big Game Adventures Magazine, September 2005

What in the world did we get ourselves into? The thought crossed my mind as we galloped across the tundra through the pouring rain. We had just broke from base camp at Goz Lake after packing provisions for the next 12 days. Now it was coming back to me. I have an obsession with huge moose antlers.

My body started to adjust to the rhythm of my horse’s trot as we made our way down Goz creek. My brother Brendt and I were on a moose hunt with Chris Widrig of Widrig Outfitters in the North Eastern part of the Yukon Territory. It was September 7th and our plan was to ride about 30 miles South and hopefully cross the Bonnet Plume River before dark. We would stay the night at “Porter Puddle”, a small lake just south of the river. In the morning we would have a 12 mile ride up the Bonnet Plume River valley to Lucky Lake, where we would set up spike camp and hunt for the next 11 days. The scenery was absolutely amazing. Chris runs a world class operation in an area rich with game and incredible scenery. It makes the long, rough rides enjoyable.

Lucky Lake was about four miles up a big saddle connecting the Bonnet Plume and Nadaleen rivers. It was a natural funnel for traveling moose. The morning of the 9th we rode out of camp for the first day of hunting. Brendt and his guide, James Zikiwski, headed to the south towards the Nadaleen River and my guide, Jimmy Johnny and I rode up a large draw just East of Lucky Lake. We saw a 55” bull just above spike camp in the afternoon and took some video of him. We headed back to camp early at about 6.00 to cut some firewood.

At about 7.30 we were sitting by the fire when the crack of a rifle made us jump. Then there was a second crack followed by the “thwack” sound made by the impact of the bullet. Jimmy smiled and said, “they got him”. About 30 minutes after dark, Brendt & James showed up, grinning from ear to ear. They had quite a story to tell.

About an hour out of camp they rounded a bend on the creek bed when James asked Brendt if he smelled something. Brendt said no and they continued on. About 20 yards further, James came face to face with a huge grizzly bear lying on top of a bull moose that it had just killed. They immediately wheeled the horses and bolted. They retreated a couple hundred yards, then worked their way up the side hill to see if the bear was still there. It hadn’t moved. They sat down about 150 yards above him, ate their lunch and watched him work on the moose.

James estimated the bear was only 15 yards away when they first spotted him. With the strong wind in their face, the bear never smelled them. James estimated the bear at about 8 ½ Ft., the biggest grizzly he had ever seen in 17 years of guiding in northern Canada. The moose appeared to be about 63”. Rather than try and get downwind of the bear, they headed back towards Lucky Lake and glassed some draws in the afternoon. On their way back to camp they spotted a big bull just south of the lake and were able to sneak within 150 yards of him. Brendt made a nice shot through some brush and the moose went down. It measured 60 inches and had 23 scoreable points.

The next morning, Jimmy and I headed north to where the saddle opened into the Bonnet Plume river valley. We rode to a high vantage point where we could see all the way across the valley and set up to glass. After an hour Jimmy spotted a bull and a cow a mile away in the timber. He estimated the bull to be in the mid 60’s. We decided to glass awhile longer, hoping to find a lone bull. They are so much more difficult to stalk with a cow. Soon after, we spotted another 60” bull with a cow about two miles across the river.

We decide to try for the closer one. If that failed, tomorrow we would ride up river to where we had spotted the second bull. To make a long story short, we made a stalk but the wind shifted when we got to within a mile of where we had first spotted the bull. We never did find him in the timber. The next morning we left camp and rode all the way down to the willow flat where we had spotted that second bull. We set up on the opposite side of the riverbank and called and glassed all afternoon. We did see a cow but never found the bull.

After three days without luck on the Bonnet Plume we decided to head south toward the Nadaleen. James and Brendt came with us because James wanted to try to retrieve the antlers from the bear killed moose. We glassed the kill site for two hours in the rain before deciding we were the only ones around. The bear was nowhere to be found and all that was left of the carcass was the neck and head. The area was overrun with grizzly and wolf tracks. It was eerie and we kept our rifles close by. We took several pictures as evidence before James cut the antlers away. The rack measured 65” and would net about 220 B & C. I began to wonder if that bear had killed my moose.

The next couple of days were cold and windy. We hunted hard and did have one close encounter with a bull that we estimated to be in the 65” range, but he was with a cow in the timber and didn’t stick around long enough to give us a shot. A considerable amount of snow had accumulated in the upper elevations and the lakes were starting to freeze over. Chris Widrig called on the satellite phone that evening and told us we would have to ride back to base camp on the 17th because he couldn’t land his floatplane on Lucky Lake. This meant we would have to cut off the hunt a day early and tomorrow would be our last day. I was feeling pretty down, knowing the odds of getting a moose weren’t good with only one day left.

We awoke in the morning to wolves howling just north of camp. It was bitter cold again, but the sun was out. Jimmy and I left camp for the last time around 9.45 a.m., planning to ride back to our lookout above the Bonnet Plume river. About a mile north of camp we crested a small hill between two ponds and Jimmy jumped off his horse to let out a few cow calls. A bull grunted back immediately. We both looked at each other, “am I hearing things?” Jimmy called again and the bull grunted back. Within a couple of minutes Jimmy had spotted the bull about 800 yards up the side of the mountain, above the timber in the thick brush. He was definitely a shooter. Even more exciting was the fact that we couldn’t see a cow with him. Jimmy called some more and the bull started moving toward us. My heart was racing. Just then a cow stepped out of the timber. I won’t tell you what I muttered.

Now it was time for “plan B”. I decided to try and sneak up the side of the mountain on foot while Jimmy kept calling and watching the bull. If the bull spooked, he would whistle as I wouldn’t be able to see the moose from the heavy timber. I said a prayer on the way hoping this would work. The timber was thick and it was difficult to climb without making a lot of noise. I was starting to sweat even though it was probably only 20 degrees out. About 400 yards up I crept into a small clearing in the timber and like clockwork, there stood the bull. I could only see half his body as he was in the thick brush. I quickly ranged him at 397 yards and figured I’d better take the shot. I reached for my monopod shooting stick but when I looked up, the bull had moved completely out of sight.

The timber ahead was thick. I couldn’t figure out how to get to where I could see the moose again. I back tracked about 50 yards and made my way up into another little clearing. There was the bull. I stood the monopod up and aimed just above his back. I pulled the trigger but didn’t hear the sound of the bullet hitting. My heart sank. Then it dawned on me. Even though he was 400 yards away, because it was such a steep uphill shot, gravity was only impacting the bullet for about 250 yards. I dropped the crosshairs onto his chest and squeezed the trigger again. “Thwack”. What a sweet sound. He spun around behind some taller brush and all I could see was his neck. I aimed halfway up his neck and this shot put him down immediately. I was elated! I ran back down the mountain to where Jimmy was so we could head back to camp and get the packhorses. Jimmy was all smiles.

James and Brendt helped us saddle up four of the packhorses and we all headed up the mountain to retrieve the moose. None of us could believe it when we walked up to him. A couple of quick measurements revealed a 61 ½” spread, 31 scoreable points and we figured he would gross about 230 B & C. What an unbelievable day. I sat in silence for several minutes, thanked God and paid my respects to the magnificent animal. That night in spike camp we ate fresh tenderloin and we gazed up at the Yukon stars for the last time. The next day we packed up and had a 20 mile ride back to base camp at Bonnet Plume Lake. It was a rough ride and it snowed most of the way, but I never noticed. On the way back I reflected about how incredibly lucky we were to have experienced such an adventure.